Until a few years ago, my Halloween display was pretty low-key, due in part to the fact that I lived on an eerie back-country road. Don't get me wrong, I still decorated on a small scale, but to my dismay the only spectators I managed to attract were of the furry, four-legged kind that would sneak out of the woods at night and gnaw on my carefully carved jack-o'-lanterns.
Adding to the intrigue, the real estate agent informed me the house had been built by Dr. Garner Spaulding, a wealthy physician who used the upstairs for his family's living quarters and the downstairs not only for his office, but also as a viewing room for the recently deceased. The chilling revelation was somewhat hair-raising to my wife. My first thought, of course, was, "Awesome!"
Needless to say, we bought the house, and I am writing this in my stone-walled, dungeonesque basement office. I've yet to hear chains rattle or see any unexplained apparitions in the halls of the home, but for one month out of the year the house serves as the perfect backdrop for my own little spookfest.
Perhaps the biggest question I get every year is, "Where do you find all this spine-chilling stuff?" Well, it depends.
We make some of the creepy critters and undead corpses, and others we purchase from Spirit Halloween. It's the only place we've found that offers a seemingly endless selection of ghoulish costumes, macabre accessories and sepulchral decor -- everything needed to transform you or your home for a spooky Halloween experience. Its retail outlets are seasonal, but its items are available online year-round, which works great for us.
I recently had a chance to talk about my Halloween possession, err, obsession, with Heather Golin, director of communications for Spirit Halloween. I asked if I would be considered a nut because of my love of all things Halloween, to which she politely responded, "We would classify you as a Halloween enthusiast."
Nice. I liked her already.
"We definitely see a lot of Halloween enthusiasts come into our store, and much of our merchandise is catered to [people like] you," Golin said. "We also see a lot of moms coming in to shop for everything their families need for trick-or-treating. [We cater to] everyone under the sun."
According to Golin, Halloween is fast growing in popularity and is second only to Christmas in terms of spending. The economy, she added, has not caused sales to suffer.
"We feel it really hasn't affected us because Halloween is all about escapism -- getting away from your reality and living out a fantasy," Golin said. "What better time to escape your reality than at Halloween?"
While I can't say enough great things about all that Spirit Halloween has to offer, I am even more impressed with its Spirit of Children program. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it's raised more than $2.3 million for children's hospitals across the United States and Canada since 2007.
The Spirit of Children program goes to show that not everything about Halloween is ghastly, ghoulish or gruesome, and it can be a great time for folks of all ages!
The spooky and frightful store-bought decorations we have at our home are definitely eye-grabbers and often result in more than one bloodcurdling scream, but we also like to add a personal touch to some of our decorations.
This year we made some of the headstones in our cemetery out of foam insulation board and managed to carve out a pretty cool-looking casket. Since we've started doing this, we've learned that chicken wire, staples and hot glue are items every Halloween decorator should have on hand -- helping even the most mundane items become the stuff of nightmares.
One of my favorite homemade decorations this year is the toxic waste can. The idea's probably not original to us, but I thought of it when my kids brought home a Toxic Waste candy container. When I saw it, I thought, "Wow! That would make a wicked prop." And that was that. I picked up an empty 55-gallon drum, my wife handled the painting, and I topped it off with a couple cans of spray foam, which we painted florescent green -- and yes, the guy at the paint store gave me quite the look when I asked for that color.
Once our toxic waste can was finished, we placed a large rubber rat on top, positioned a crazed scientist we had made next to it, and illuminated the entire scene with a fluorescent green light. It really turned out quite spooktacular!
Some of the other interesting projects this year include a ghastly three-headed dog -- we used some old deer skulls we found in the woods along with some crazy plastic eyes -- and the creepy-looking 8-foot Grim Reaper that stands over our lawn's "cemetery." I got that idea during a recent visit to Universal Studios, which had a similar one, made out of a cow skull. For ours, I used a horse skull I found in the woods when I was a kid. I always told my parents I'd find a use for it!
Another favorite decoration -- one that's also new this year -- is the airplane that we nose-dived in our front yard. Yes, that's a real plane. The notion started festering in my head a year or two ago and I spent a lot of time searching for one.
In August, I finally found the 1946 Ercoupe 415-D at a small airport in North Carolina. The plane had been crashed and the wings, tail and nose had vanished along the way. Nevertheless, I drove 12 hours to buy it, accompanied by my friend, Walter Perkowski – who often helps out in my crazy Halloween adventures – and my son, Makain. Afterward, we turned around and trailered it another 12 hours back to Pennsylvania. We could have passed for zombies after that long, sleepless haul!
Once the plane was home, I looked up the tail number on the National Transportation Safety Board website. Turns out the aircraft crashed in 2005, while en route to Port Meadville Airport in Meadville, Pa. The plane, according to the report, had a "total failure of the engine-driven fuel pump" and went down in Sandy Lake, Pa. -- a mere hour from my house. So, I made a 1,400-mile journey to pick up a plane that had crashed in my own backyard. Go figure.
Next, I enlisted the help of my sister Lisa and brother-in-law, Mark Gould, as well as that of Walter, my wife, my kids, Alex and Makain, my friend, Norman Lane and my mother, Nellie. We had to rebuild the plane, so we could crash it again in my front yard -- yes, I am aware of how bizarre that sounds.
Roughly two months later, and at the cost of several rolls of aluminum, multiple cans of paint, a dozen 2-by-4s and four giant tarps, we had the result that you see in the photos here. It was a bigger project than I expected, but with a lot of sweat and a little hocus pocus, it turned out pretty well. We even found a real parachute on eBay and used it for our pilot, who, as you can see, got snagged in a tree. Now, once Halloween is over, I just have to figure out where to store the darn thing!
Well, the moment I saw Godzilla, I knew I had to have him. I ended up brokering a deal with the monster's owner, and soon Walter was at work upgrading my electric box to handle the juice needed to power the two industrial blowers that keep Godzilla inflated. Afterward, we set Godzilla up in the front yard. I'm certain my neighbors, who had all gathered to see what the heck was up, thought I was absolutely certifiable. The neighbor kids sure love it, though!
You might think that I have enough Halloween decorations, but I still find myself adding to what we've already got and I'm already busy making plans for next year. Somehow, I'll have to top the plane -- fortunately, I have a few ideas in the works!